Two ambitious Facebook games from commercial companies were launched into public beta this week. What Food Force and WeTopia have in common is at the heart of the “games for change” movement: a desire to inspire direct action and real-world impact through engaging gameplay. Each follows a very different journey into the marketplace.
From Konami Digital Entertainment (makers of Dance Dance Revolution, Castlevania, and other hits) comes a significant expansion of their long-running support of the World Food Programme’s gaming initiatives. The result is the re-emergence of Food Force, one of the most successful early games for change titles. This spiritual sequel to the 2005 original boasts all of the bells and whistles of today’s social games and it is also Konami’s first free, social game.
Sojo Studios, a new entertainment company, made plenty of headlines this week with its first social game, WeTopia. The studio is gaining plenty of attention with news of its $8 million arsenal, a roster of partnerships with non-profits like Save the Children, Children’s Health Fund and buildOn, consumer brand advertisers, and Ellen DeGeneres as one its business investors and partners.
So is this a new era for games for social impact? Will we see more commercial game developers exploring opportunities beyond entertainment? Only time will tell, but let’s take a look at these two games to see where the future may be heading.
FOOD FORCE, THE FIRST HUMANITARIAN AID GAME
In 2005, the World Food Programme (WFP) funded and released one of the most successful games for change ever: Food Force. Created by the British game developers, Playerthree, and the Italian computer design studio Deepend, this PC game was downloaded over 6 million times and played by over 10 million players in 18 countries. In Food Force, players were transported to a fictitious, famine-stricken country in the midst of a civil war. Throughout the game’s six missions, players experienced the crucial steps needed for WFP to deliver large scale, humanitarian aid.
The reboot of the series has been developed and funded by the world-class game studio, Konami. This iteration of Food Force takes full advantage of the social web, as players must interact with each other in order to progress. This is done through buying crops, sending friends on missions, and buying virtual goods to boost performance. Money spent on these items directly funds WFP projects in the real world, such as campaigns that send daily meals to 20 million children every year. These crucial resources allow children to stay healthy and have the necessary energy to do well in school. To make a strong connection to their contributions, players can view their “real-life impact tracker”, a feature that shows them how many children their virtual good purchases are affecting.
Food Force has been in development for over two years and represents a significant advance in Konami’s commitment to supporting the goals of WFP, a collaboration that began in 2005 when they produced the original version of Food Force in Japanese.
As the world’s largest humanitarian aid agency, WFP is no stranger to the power of gaming and has forged impactful relationships with commercial developers – both in creating its own games (such as Free Rice) and by serving as the beneficiary of large-scale socially conscious campaigns run by Zynga and other game studios.
Food Force has been released in English and Japanese and you can find the official press release here.
You can play Food Force on Facebook now.
WeTOPIA, DELIVERING “JOY” IN A REAL WAY
Every company seeks its “secret sauce.” The newly launched entertainment company Sojo Studios is counting on the desire of social game lovers to feel driven to Play for Good ™.
Sojo’s business model is a hybrid that allows them to continually generate revenue, both through advertisers and sponsors (such as Mattel and Clorox) as well as players’ purchases of social goods in-game, with a mandate to donate 50% of the net profits (never less than 20% revenue) to its charity beneficiaries. As future games are created and published, additional causes and associated nonprofit organizations from around the world will be considered.
The business model evolved out of entrepreneur and founder Lincoln Brown’s own passion and involvement in causes, most recently Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. His vision for WeTopia and the company’s other games is not only to give people a powerful and fun way to give back, but to allow them to see where the money is actually going and to keep track of its real-world impact.
While WeTopia’s gameplay will be familiar to those who play building games (i.e., creating homes, making businesses thrive, farming for resources), its fund raising model is brand new. Some social games allow players to buy virtual goods with Facebook credits with a fraction of the cost going to aid programs. In WeTopia’s case, players gain a special form of currency called “Joy”. As players accumulate Joy by playing the game, they can spend it on individual, real world campaigns.
Currently, WeTopia is in an “open beta”, but soon players will receive updates via blogs, photos, and videos from the campaigns to get a ’reality glimpse’ of what their Joy has brought.
For the official press release, click here.
WeTopia is playable on Facebook now.
We applaud these ambitious efforts coming from the commercial sector and will keep the community updated on their progress over the coming months, including in-depth interviews with the principals. In the meantime, please check out the games and share your thoughts on Food Force and WeTopia with us below or on the Games for Change Facebook fan page.